Archive for the ‘English - general issues’ Category

Upskilling with English

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019
(File pix) A communicative approach in learning English will help students develop skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, negotiating and conflict resolution. Courtesy Photo

WITH the rising demand for soft skills in the working world, questions abound whether being competent in English is still key for graduates to gain employment.

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report last year suggested that by 2020, complex problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creativity, good people management and emotional intelligence will become very important traits in the workplace.

Having sophisticated language skills provides the foundation to communicate ideas, thoughts and opinions effectively.

British Council Malaysia director Sarah Deverall said proficiency in English has never been more important to gain employment and get ahead in the digital age.

And companies based in Malaysia and abroad are increasingly operating across geographical boundaries, so the ability to communicate in English with internal and external stakeholders is crucial.

“While many people nowadays are competent in using and understanding English, skills such as having an advanced range of grammatical structures, natural pronunciation, or awareness of appropriacy and register can make a huge difference in how effective they communicate in English,” she said.

In its latest Job Outlook report released in January, online job portal stated that English proficiency in Malaysia continues to be of concern, with 64 per cent of employers saying that a poor command of the language was the second reason behind the unemployment of fresh graduates. Malaysia country manager Gan Bock Herm said communication skills are among the top five valued by employers, and it is true that by improving those skills and having a good command of English, it would increase a jobseeker’s employability, especially for fresh graduates.

“Besides communication skills, there are other important traits that are crucial in the competitive job market.

“They include good problem-solving skills, the ability to manage stress and work independently, and the willingness to learn, embrace new changes and adapt accordingly,” he said.


“Learning a language can help with the development of soft skills, particularly when using the communicative learning approach, where students can develop teamwork, problem-solving capabilities, and the art of negotiating and conflict resolution,” said Deverall.

As an example, she said during speaking activities in British Council training programmes for scholarship recipients bound for studies at universities abroad, the students are given the opportunity to collaborate with their groupmates to practise turn-taking and negotiating.

The English classes may also involve discussions or essay-writing activities, where students are asked about their opinion on certain topics and to support it with evidence or ideas.

“This kind of activity allows students to develop their critical-thinking skills and confidence.

Alternatively, they may be asked to suggest a solution to an issue, which allows them to polish their problem-solving skills,” said Deverall.

In graduate training programmes, participants learn to make small talk with future bosses and colleagues, express ideas clearly in meetings, make presentations to clients or the management, and write structured, clear and concise emails, reports and proposals.

But English language courses are often short and may not be effective for university students to master the skills needed to survive the working world.

How can universities help students hone their English language skills, besides developing soft skills in an effective and lasting manner?


In Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), students are required to partake in English proficiency courses or activities under the university’s Putra English Language Experience (ELEx) programme —a learning package conducted by the Centre for the Advancement of Language Competence (CALC) — every semester.

The experience can be both beneficial and enriching.

They include the English Language Proficiency (LPE) courses, Certificate in English Language (CEL) courses and Language Activities without credit (LAX) assignments.

The number of courses students have to take depends on their Malaysian University English Test (Muet) results, with those at a higher band getting more exemptions.

Muet gauges the undergraduates’ level of English in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Its proficiency band ranges between one and six, with the latter indicating the highest competency.

Nurul Farah Hana Shafrizal and Amirul Hakim Abdul Rahman, 20, both first-year Bachelor of Computer Science (Multimedia) students, have some things in common.

Their Muet score of Band 2 puts them as limited users of the language.

While both are comfortable in listening and reading, they are rather challenged when it comes to speaking and writing as they often shy away from conversing in English.

However, that is rapidly changing when they took up a course on reading for academic purposes. The course is one of five credited LPE courses conducted by CALC.

It not only taught Nurul Farah Hana and Amirul Hakim the skills to pen their words, but also to communicate confidently.

“The course has improved my comprehension through reading and analysing information and contents.

“And because the class requires me to think critically and share my opinion with fellow classmates of different capabilities, I now feel confident to speak in public. Not to mention, I made new friends, too,” said Amirul Hakim.

“For me, I learned that reading is really important as it can build my vocabulary and help me to understand nuances. With that, I feel comfortable speaking in English when interacting with my foreign coursemates,” said Nurul Farah Hana.

Alani Wahi Mohd Wahi, 21, a second-year Bachelor of Environmental Science and Technology student who scored Band 5—which means she has a very good command of English — discovered her creative side when she took up an LPE creative writing course.

Being used to cut-and-dry scientific writing, she took the opportunity to explore different ways of expressing her emotions and thoughts.

“In class, I went through the process of writing creative English pieces, such as poems and short stories.

“ To write a nicely structured poem, words need to fit in a certain way, thus requiring us to learn new vocabularies along the way.

“And, we were required to explain our poems and short stories in class. This is when our communication skills and self-confidence stepped up.

“We also analysed short stories and poems, and this helped to enhance our creativity and crititical thinking skills,” said Alani Wahi.

Preparation for the working world is what third-year Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering student Nufail Izzfarhan Rozley, 22, seeks from the CEL course on communication professional development.

Even though he scored Band 4 in Muet, Nufail Izzfarhan still finds a lot of room for improvemennt in his command of the language.

“I will soon go for internship and companies often use English as a medium of communication. This course has taught me to write a resume and conduct myself in interviews. I also learned about business communication.

“This has made me confident. In fact, I recently attended an interview for an internship placement and I think I didn’t do so badly,” he said.

Using English outside the classroom in an interactive and fun way is not something every student gets to experience.

But for Izzah Islah Muslim, 21, a second year Bachelor of Business Administration student, she experienced this in an LAX assignment called “Get Groomed”, which saw her working with five of her peers to produce three instruction videos on grooming.

For a student with a Band 3 in Muet, the activity pushed her out of her shell to make presentations and take a leadership role.

“My groupmates and I were from different faculties with different levels of English proficiency. We had to organise meetings and group discussions, which must be conducted in English, and record them to show our instructor.

“It took the pressure out of having to speak and write in English, and it helped me to make new friends,” said Izzah Islah.

Her coursemate, Hasbatrisyia Alya Mohd Hedzir, 21, had the best opportunity to interact with native-speakers when she joined a two-week outbound mobility programme to the University of Wollongong near Sydney, Australia.

Already proven to be fluent in English with a Band 5 in Muet, Hasbatrisyia Alya said it was an out-of-the-norm experience.

She joined English language classes at the host university, stayed with a foster family and explored her surroundings by visiting tourist attractions.

“I learned so much more than English itself. I learnt a lot about the country’s culture, people’s attitude and history.

“I gained confidence by communicating with the locals, learned to adapt to new surroundings and to think on my feet. Overall, not only did I improve my English, but I also got to see another part of the world.”


According to CALC director Associate Professor Dr Arshad Abd Samad, Putra ELEx was approved by the university senate in 2013 and implemented the same year.

A major goal in developing the package is to address industry feedback of graduates’ weakness in the English language, especially in conversations.

“While the LPE courses focus on acquiring important language skills, the CEL courses emphasise the need in occupational situations. Finally, the LAX assignments are meant to encourage students to speak in English and raise their confidence in using the language.

“It is organised in small groups without the presence of lecturers, and the students are required to discuss in English to complete their tasks.”

As a whole, Arshad said the ELEx provides language-related knowledge and skills needed for academic studies through the LPE courses; skills and abilities needed for the workplace through the CEL courses; and, opportunities to develop confidence in using the language through LAX activities.

ELEx, Arshad said, is intended to hone the students’ English language skills and abilities. It is to make them more confident in using the language so they do not become tongue-tied. Student are encouraged to speak naturally and not feel awkward.

“Not all our students have the opportunity to use the English language in natural and authentic circumstances,” he said.

Arshad believes that language skills remain crucial even when the emphasis seemed to have moved to other soft skills, such as creativity and critical thinking.

“It is through good language ability that the employee will be able to convey ideas more clearly. Hence, even if an employee has ideas and is highly creative, he or she will not be able to express those ideas clearly without a good command of the language.

“Secondly, being proficient in a second language allows one to view relevant issues from a different perspective.

“The more ways we can perceive an issue, the better we can assess the situation and make appropriate decisions.”


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Giving pupils a language boost

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019
Year Six pupils of SK Bandar Sri Damansara 3 having fun during a class session with the Step Up pullout.

Year Six pupils of SK Bandar Sri Damansara 3 having fun during a class session with the Step Up pullout.

SOMETIMES, only a little nudge is needed to see resourcefulness and creativity in children shine.

With a dustpan handle as his walking stick, a Year Six pupil of SK Bandar Sri Damansara 3, Kuala Lumpur, fitted perfectly into his role in a short skit as a blind man trying to cross the road. Meanwhile, his partner demonstrated a courtesy when one encounters such a situation. The scenario was required during an English class activity supplemented by Step Up, an education pullout by The Star.

Hands shot up when English teacher Gomathi Gopalakrishnan asked class year Six Mutiara: “Okay, who wants to be the old lady for the next role play?”

Many of the pupils were vying to have a shot at the activity. Gomathi said that she introduced Step Up last year.

“When I say that I am using Step Up, there is a positive reaction from them. They find it fun because it is colourful and a fun way to learn English.

“I think that having a love for English is very important. This way, they are continuously motivated to learn for themselves. Then when they go for higher education, they will have basic English skills and be confident when learning,” she said.

Step Up is a colourful 24-page workbook-cum-activity pullout designed to help pupils in Years Four, Five and Six prepare for the UPSR examination.

The teacher said the number of As for writing and comprehension increased from the previous year.

“At the moment, Step Up is compulsory for all Year Six pupils. We want to include all Year Five pupils as well. It helps pupils master reading and writing. It adds greatly to their vocabulary and they, basically, become more knowledgeable.”

Language is usually not the only element taught during English lessons. This particular issue of the pullout focused on the themes: Time is Precious, Good Manners and Making Decisions, which are found in the national syllabus for Years Four, Five and Six, respectively.

Year Six pupil Muhammad Iskandar Affendy said that he learnt about manners and that time should not be wasted from this issue of Step Up.

“Step Up is fun to do, and the mini dictionary feature helps with my spelling. I like reading the short stories. I sometimes read the newspaper that comes with Step Up,” he said.

Understanding the importance of English, he said that knowing the language enables him to communicate with a lot of people. “A lot of information on the Internet is also in English.”

Year Six pupil Vishant Permal said: “Step Up is fun and interesting. We learn how to express our feelings to people.”

“Meanings to difficult words are given in the mini dictionary and this helps me learn new words. Even when I play online games, the instructions are in English,” he said.

Classmate Nasreen Mohd Naveed enjoys Step Up as it includes fun riddles and puzzles.

“I love reading. With English, I can read many books,” she said.

“I will need English in tertiary education. Being able to communicate in English also helps me feel more confident.”

Gomathi said that having the newspaper cultivates a reading habit because they are provided with materials to read. “So it is very good that the newspaper comes with Step Up.”

“Children these days seem to lack general knowledge. So when they read the newspaper, they know what is happening in and out of the country.

The price is reasonable – plus there is a free gift.”

School headmistress Rozaini Md Zain felt that the content in Step Up helps pupils be more creative. “We want to expand the pupils’ minds beyond what is available in the textbook, and Step Up helps pupils become better at writing.”

“The children like it very

much. Since it comes with the newspaper, it indirectly encourages reading and adds to their knowledge.

“Teachers, too, like using it. Step Up makes the teacher’s work easier, for sure. They don’t have to source for materials – it’s all there. The teachers can also adapt the activities to suit their classes.

“I would recommend this pullout to other teachers.”

Step Up features Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese translation of difficult English words. The version with the Bahasa Malaysia translation is published on alternate Tuesdays while the version with Chinese translation comes out on alternate Thursdays.

The syllabus-based pullout is endorsed by the Education Ministry.

By Emily Chan
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Stepping up English usage

Friday, January 25th, 2019
Excited to learn: Year Five pupils of SK Sungai Buloh getting a sneak peek at the first issue of ‘Step Up’ 2019. With them are Nurhafizah (far right) and Dansen (far left).

Excited to learn: Year Five pupils of SK Sungai Buloh getting a sneak peek at the first issue of ‘Step Up’ 2019. With them are Nurhafizah (far right) and Dansen (far left).

PETALING JAYA: In environments where English is not the main mode of communication, learning the language is mostly confined to English lessons in school.

SK Sungai Buloh, Selangor, sandwiched between urban and non-urban communities, has a majority of pupils from Malay-speaking families.

Its headmaster Ab Halid Zakaria understands that language learning extends beyond classroom walls.

“When learning English, you cannot just rely on lessons in school.

“The culture of speaking English has to start from home. We felt that this culture is lacking.”

With this in mind, the school saw the Step Up education pullout by The Star as a good fit to bridge this learning gap.

The pullout, which comes with a copy of The Star newspaper, is a 24-page workbook and activity book for pupils in Years Four, Five and Six.

“So, when pupils take an English daily home, parents would realise that this language learning is not just confined to schools,” he added.

At SK Sungai Buloh, the school’s administration believes that a three-way relationship between pupils, teachers and parents is an important aspect in encouraging academic growth at the school.

Ab Halid noted: “When we introduced the Step Up pullout to some parents at a recent meeting, they felt that the package was worth their money as it comes with attractive free gifts.

“We are planning for all students to opt for the free grammar book so that teachers will be able to use them in class.

“Last year, all Year Six pupils subscribed to Step Up.

“Seeing the benefits from using the pullouts, we made it compulsory for pupils in Years Four, Five and Six to subscribe this year.

“The pullout is suitable for our pupils – the exercises are neither too difficult nor are they too easy.

“They help our pupils master grammar,” he added.

Agreeing, English panel head Nurhafizah Yaacob said: “One positive impact that I can see is that more pupils are actually speaking English at school.

“At home, most pupils have limited English language materials to read.

“So when they bring an English newspaper back home, their parents and siblings can also use it.

“It really makes a difference.”

Nurhafizah said parents had their doubts about subscribing to Step Up last year.

“This year, even though they have two children attending SK Sungai Buloh, parents prefer that each child own a copy of the Step Up pullout.”

This shift has resulted in SK Sungai Buloh increasing its subscription for its pupils from 110 copies in 2018 to 312 copies this year.

“We love Step Up because the answers are at the back, so if parents can’t help with grammar, they can always check the answers.

“It is good as a Self Assessment Learning (SAL) tool.”

The lucky pupils in class Year Five Sinar had a sneak peek at the first issue of Step Up for 2019, which rolls out tomorrow.

Nurhafizah and English teacher Sean Dansen conducted a lesson using the pullout that had pupils clamouring to give their answers.

Step Up features Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese translations of difficult English words.

The version with the Bahasa Malaysia translation is published on alternate Tuesdays while the version with Chinese translation comes out on alternate Thursdays.

The colourful syllabus-based content tackles themes set by the Education Ministry and helps prepare pupils for the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR).

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Dr M: Master English, don’t politicise it.

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

KUALA NERUS (Bernama): Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic) has reminded educators to continue playing their roles to ensure Malaysians master the English language.

The Prime Minister said the role of teachers is important to shape and determine future Malaysians, and therefore the government is giving serious focus to education.

“Do not let it become a political issue and deny people the opportunity to master knowledge due to the political interests of certain groups.

“We need to master English and I hope educators would give priority to this as it is the language of science and technology,” he said at a gathering with educators in Terengganu here Monday.

Also present were his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Mentri Besar Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad, as well as 1,000 educators.

The event was the first programme of Dr Mahathir’s one-day working visit to Terengganu. It is also the first visit by the Prime Minister after Pakatan Harapan won the 14th general election last May.

Dr Mahathir said the government would be introducing an education system directed more towards programmes to shape Malaysians to be more competent and able to advance Malaysia more rapidly than before.

“Our education policy is not only to impart knowledge but also to form good characters.

“For this, we need to also focus on our religious teachings … about the values of life needed to be held in Islam. I hope all teachers will also look into the matter.

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Creating immersive environment for learning English

Sunday, December 30th, 2018
(File pix) Students visiting the Brave-Hearts programme at Pusanika, UKM, can try on and walk around in various costumes from different eras in England. Pix by NSTP/Saddam Yusoff

AS first-year students of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) arrived at the Brave-Hearts site in UKM’s Pusanika, they were greeted with sights, sounds and smells that sent their senses reeling.

An air of excitement surrounded the booths offering information and activities by 14 faculties involved in the programme under Citra UKM centre.

Brave-Hearts, which stands for “Bringing Real Activities Via English Hands-on Experience and Rewarding Tasks”, is an out-ofclass English enhancement programme for UKM students.

Now in its fourth year, the programme is aimed at creating interest among students with lower English proficiency levels to learn the language, and boost their confidence to converse in the language.

At one of the booths, Aishah Mutmainnah Khairul Annuar, 21, is seen encouraging visitors to try out costumes from different English eras. The Liberal Studies student herself was clad in a dark velvet Victorian-era gown, complete with a beaded headpiece that she had sewn all night.

Aishah said introducing clothes worn by people in England, such as tunics, gowns, ruffled collars, lace veils and corsets, could help to spark interest among undergraduates to learn words related to clothes.

“Personally, I am excited to be wearing this Victorian-era dress. Through the pieces of clothing we have, students like me can learn new words associated with clothing,” said Aishah.

Similarly, other booths offered activities that focused on awareness of language functions and vocabulary building, such as Readers’ Theatre, a Snake-and-Ladder game and a mock Moot Court, where all of the activities were conducted in English.

At the mock “court” booth, students take up roles as judge, defendant, public prosecutor, accused, bailiff and so on, to act out a scene in the courtroom using a script prepared. The booth was a hit as group after group of students signed up to give it a try.

To make this year’s programme even better, Citra UKM’s deputy director (Communication), Professor Madya Dr Zarina Othman said all 14 faculties under the centre were roped in to participate and set up booths.

“Brave-Hearts 2018 features the involvement of faculties to showcase their disciplines through communicative activities in English,” she said.

“This will be an opportunity for students from different disciplines to realise the role of English and communication in their respective fields.

“This initiative creates the ambience needed to boost students’ mastery of English and their motivation and confidence to use English.”

Zarina said every learner was unique and successful language learning depended on how students felt about a language.

“Less positive feelings, like lack of motivation, low self-confidence and anxiety, are contributing factors that could hamper success in language learning,” she said.

“The affective factor is one aspect that needs to be addressed and enhanced outside formal learning environment where language practitioners are more able to work on providing students with a conducive environment in line with the concept of immersion.”

UKM deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International affairs) Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Marzuki Mustafa, who graced the event, said: “The best way to learn English is to go to an English-speaking country. But, because that is impossible for our students, we decided to bring everything that is English to them instead.”

“Even though this is just a one-day event, it is hoped that the interest generated can be sustained for a long time. The momentum can be kept through the classes held by lecturers, too.”

Since its inception in 2013, UKM’s Citra Education has sought to produce knowledgeable and flexible graduates, who are experts in their disciplines and, at the same time, having excellent soft skills.

New students who enrol are required to take up either 30 or 40 credit units of Citra education courses depending on whether they are in professional, or non-professional/ standard programmes.

The Citra Education course is made up of compulsory courses and Citra courses. The compulsory courses encompass those such as Basic Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Islamic and Asian Civilisations, Ethnic Relations and Soft Skills.

Citra University Centre deputy director (Competency), Associate Professor Dr Adi Irfan Che Ani said first-year students were required to choose courses from six domains offered. They are Ethnics, Citizenship and Civilisation, Language, Communication and Literacy, Quantitative and Qualitative, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Science, Technology and Sustainability, and Family, Health and Lifestyle.

By Hanna Syed Mokhtar.

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Authentic learning resource a boon

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Education pullout sponsorship a much-needed teaching aid for school

WHEN teacher Nor Zalila Hidayu Aman heard that her school was receiving sponsored copies of The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) pullout, she was over the moon.

“It is a blessing to us! We have not had much success with obtaining gadgets and we are not able to supply each student with a laptop. So this sponsorship is a much-needed resource,” said the English department head from SMK Kota Masai 2, Johor.

The school is one of 40 Johor schools benefitting from the PPB Group Berhad sponsorship of the NiE pullout. The sponsorship by the Malaysian diversified conglomerate was made under Star Media Group’s English for Better Opportunities (EBO) project. NiE workshops for teachers and students were also included in this sponsorship to help teachers understand the methodology of using the newspaper as a resource to teach English.

EBO is a multi-level platform aimed at making immersive driven English language programmes interactive, fun and accessible to all levels of society.

Having used the newspaper as a teaching tool before being introduced to NiE, Nor Zalila Hidayu is familiar with the benefits of using this authentic resource.

“Not every student has flipped through an English newspaper. Some do not even know that you can find the comics in the newspaper. NiE exposes them to something new.

“It helps most in building vocabulary. Students write better when they see examples of correctly written sentences. They can see authentic news reports in the newspaper. They also stumble on things that they are curious about and it would prompt them to question things.

“Not many students in this school can converse well in English. They are very shy, but they try. That’s why we organise English programmes.”

The Star-NiE programme, now in its 21st year, has been breathing life into English classroom lessons with engaging, hands-on activities using the newspaper. The colourful, syllabus-based 12-page pullout is written by a team of experienced English language teachers.

NiE was part of an English camp at SMK Kota Masai, Johor. Students enjoyed the engaging and hands-on newspaper activities.

NiE was part of an English camp at SMK Kota Masai, Johor. Students enjoyed the engaging and hands-on newspaper activities.

Last month, SMK Kota Masai 2 hosted an English camp. Two other schools, SMK Tanjung Puteri Resort and SMK Seri Kota Puteri, were also invited to the camp. NiE activities were used as part of the camp acitivities.

“The teachers who attended the earlier NiE workshops (for teachers) were the ones who suggested that we include an NiE session in the English camp.

“Students liked the activities – they were very engaged and happy.

“Seeing how successful the camp was, I said to myself that I should let The Star know. We are very grateful to the sponsors. I would really like to thank them. The NiE workshops for teachers were very helpful – we got ideas of how to use the newspaper in class. “

“The students now look forward to English classes with NiE. They would ask if we are using the newspapers when we have English lessons,” she added.

English teacher Siti Salbiah Salleh, who also attended one of the NiE workshops sponsored by PPB this year, enjoys using NiE in her classes.

“NiE can be fully utilised to enhance a range of language skills. Furthermore, NiE is relatively inexpensive compared to other materials.

“The activities in NiE are designed to promote students’ critical thinking skills. They can be used to empower students to become independent learners.”

She also likes the fact that the newspapers are visually stimulating.

“They contain a lot of pictures to encapsulate a vast range of topics. It can also be used to target different learning styles, As a result, learning becomes more interesting, meaningful and motivating for the learners. Students are able to learn real language in context as it aids students in developing a solid language base.”

Form Two student Fara Nurumairah Kamaruzzaman said she finds that the newspaper has a lot of news and information to offer.

“The newspaper has pictures of the situation, which makes me understand the issue better.”

She also liked the fact that NiE encourages group work.

“I like working in groups because I can share my opinions and thoughts. The lesson is more exciting than when studying alone. Study groups encourage us to learn new skills and gain new perspectives.

“Besides that, NiE helps me improve my English by introducing new words to me. With better vocabulary, I can create better essays.”

Student Syed Muhammad Azriel Syed Faizal, 14, said that NiE encourages him to read.

“I never knew that the newspaper can also be useful for learning! I like using NiE in English lessons.

“For me, learning with NiE is different from learning with the textbook. This is because the NiE pullout is more exciting and it has a lot of colourful pictures. The newspaper is also updated and shows different things every day.”

Form One student Priyalatha Setha said that NiE encourages her to read the newspaper.

“I was afraid to read English newspapers at first, but now I like reading them because they have many interesting sections. By reading more, I can improve my vocabulary as well as writing in English.

By Emily Chan
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Let’s develop English education together

Sunday, October 14th, 2018
Gladys presenting a souvenir to Aslam Khan.

Gladys presenting a souvenir to Aslam Khan.

THE Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) will hold its eighth international research conference in English language education on Dec 1.

Melta vice-president Aslam Khan Samahs Khan said the conference to be held at the International Islamic University Malaysia in Gombak is a platform for research sharing.

“Melta is 60 this year. Our association isn’t just for teachers and academics – we’re open to anyone who shares our mission to develop English education in the country.

“We’re ready to assist the ministry. Our report on improving the system is ready to be handed over to Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik,” he said, adding that details on the conference are on

Its chairperson Gladys Francis Joseph said the Melta KL Chapter was set up to reach out to teachers.

The symposium, she said, was for teachers who want to be more effective.

“Teachers say they’re not getting the desired results despite adopting 21st century learning. Where’s the gap? We have to understand why and what our students are thinking.”

During the half-day event at HELP University, KL, some 80 secondary teachers took on the role of students, participating in games and poetry writing, and even dancing – all in an effort to become more effective educators.

Aslam Khan said there is at least one Chapter in almost all states nationwide.

“But we’d like to see more Chapters being set up because some states are so big that we cannot expect teachers to travel for hours just to attend a workshop.

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Language as it is spoken in the real world.

Monday, October 8th, 2018
Shyamala explains the task the pupils must craft from the newspaper activity as Lim (in pink shirt) looks on.

Shyamala explains the task the pupils must craft from the newspaper activity as Lim (in pink shirt) looks on.

PRESENCE in the classroom is that special edge that teacher Mark Lim Ming Hau has. The teacher, who is only in his third year of teaching in SJKC Kuo Kuang, Skudai, Johor Baru, was fully present in the moment as 50 pupils worked on activities using the newspaper. The school had yet to be exposed to learning English with the newspaper as this was its first demonstration session. But Lim exuded an air of confidence and was on hand to help his charges with pointers as he walked from group to group.

So it did not come as a surprise when Lim said that using the newspaper as a resource to teach the English language was not something new to him. Lim was exposed to The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme while he was undergoing training at the Ipoh Institute of Teacher Education in Perak four years ago.

The two-hour workshop at the school was sponsored by MagnumCares, a corporate social responsibility (CSR) unit of the Magnum Group (Magnum). Under the umbrella of MagnumCares, the programme actively reaches out to the community in various sustainable and charitable programmes.

Lim had not yet taken the first step to initiate using the newspapers in the classroom, but he was impressed by his pupils’ reactions to the activities

Lim feels encouraged to try the activities after observing the session that was conducted by Star-NiE freelance consultant trainer Shyamala Sankaran.

“This is practical in the classroom once pupils get more exposure. The pupils can be trained towards that goal,” said Lim.

As a teacher, he believes that the materials can be adapted to suit the classroom needs of the pupils.

“I think that the pupils feel more relaxed and in this way their creativity can be heightened. It is fun,” said Lim who plans to start using the newspaper with his Year Three class.

Head of the English panel Lillian Tey Boon Lian is all for using the newspapers in the classroom to add to a broader repertoire of instructional strategies. This, she believes, will serve pupils better in the classroom.

Trainer Shyamala gets the pupils ready to answer questions from the newspaper.

Trainer Shyamala gets the pupils ready to answer questions from the newspaper.

“There is a great impact when we use the newspapers in the classroom. The reality is, most of us are always bound to our boring, lengthy textbooks to teach and set questions. We can incorporate the newspapers into pupils’ learning based on today’s sampling of activities,” said the teacher, who is in her 14th year of service.

Magnum Group CSR and public affairs executive Jennifer Chin, who was present at the workshop, was pleased to see how pupils from different classes warmed up not only to the activities but to each other after a while.

“They took the initiative to form their groups and make friends with pupils from other classes. After getting to know each other, they were no longer shy and passive, and were able to express their views and share ideas in completing the assignments.

“We can see that the pupils are comfortable with their new friends in the learning process. Besides learning the English language, they also learned to adapt themselves through different learning experiences. It is good that the pupils made new friends and learned to socialise and communicate with each other in English,” said Chin.

The foundation was also pleased to learn that several English language teachers and trainee teachers attended the session to observe the workshop. Sharing of positive learning is one of MagnumCares’ core principles.

“MagnumCares hopes that the teachers continue to be the role models by instilling the ‘sharing is caring’ spirit. They are empowered to share the experience with their pupils and colleagues to make the learning of English fun and interesting. By doing so, we strongly believe that the pupils can be motivated to learn and improve their proficiency in the English language,” explained Chin.

“MagnumCares hopes this workshop will generate interest, increase creativity, build strong team spirit, cultivate the reading habit and inspire pupils involved as future leaders of the country,” she said.

Sylvia Cho Xun, Ng Xi Wen and Janice Ong Wen Hui, all aged 11, were thrilled to know that they could learn English using the newspaper. It was a new experience for all three girls as they spoke Chinese at home. The Chinese newspaper, too, they said, was a common household item in their homes. This was the first time that they had actually seen, much less used, an English daily.

Despite being unaccustomed to the language, the Year Five pupils were enthusiastic about sharing what they experienced.

“I didn’t know I could learn English easily from the newspaper,” said Sylvia who likes to read. “It was fun.” So naturally it came as no surprise that her favourite NiE activity was writing a short story.

“I read mostly Chinese storybooks but sometimes, I read an English one,” she said.

Xi Wen said that this was the first time she had seen The Star newspaper and what she liked best were the comic sections in Star2.

“I am going to tell my mother that I learned English from the newspaper today. I will tell her I learned many new words,” she said.

Janice, too, enjoyed her English lesson for the day. She was excited when she found out what was in store for the next two hours.

Janice, who learns English by reading English storybooks, was surprised that there were so many things she could learn from the newspapers.

“It was interesting to use the newspaper because there are so many stories in the newspaper,” she said.

SJKC Kuo Kuang is one of 20 schools receiving sponsored copies of the Step Up and NiE pullouts from MagnumCares under the flagship of the English for Better Opportunities (EBO) project spearheaded by Star Media Group. The Step Up pullouts cater for pupils from Years Four to Six in national and Chinese primary schools. The pullout features Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia translations of difficult English words. It also includes samplings of NiE activities suitable for primary school pupils.

By Sharon Ovinis
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The art of debating, Oxford style

Thursday, October 4th, 2018
The Oxford Union representatives (from left) Charlie Cheesman, Chris Zabilowicz, Chris Garner and Isabella Risino.

THE benefits a student can gain from engaging in healthy debate, which is an art of persuasion and a form of public discussion, are numerous.

A good debate encompasses rational and strong arguments, which leads to sound decision-making.

Debaters can acquire self-confidence, improve their higher-order and critical-thinking skills, as well as enhance their analytical and research capabilities.

No matter which path they pursue in university, being able to communicate clearly and confidently is a boon that goes a long way.

For students applying to prestigious universities, they may have to keep their debating skills sharp as it can be an advantage for admission.

According to Charlie Cheesman, an economics and management student of St Edmund Hall, Oxford University, debating is relevant in the university’s application process and interviews.

“Debating is about critically assessing problems and reading deeply into an issue.

It is also an important skill for you to speak confidently and clearly with your peers, which is something so valuable later in life.”

Cheesman, together with three of his university mates, were visiting four international schools in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor to give insight to students about university life abroad.

As members of The Oxford Union (Oxford University’s debating society), they conducted thought-provoking workshops and shared the fundamentals of debating.

Students were split into groups and given a topic. The Oxford Union representatives helped them to structure their arguments and gave tips on how to win a duel of speeches.

Having served as president of the Union, Chris Zabilowicz said: “The Oxford Union is founded on the basis of free speech and debate.

We are very careful not to platform speakers who are controversial for controversy sake.”

The Oxford Union is best known for its high-profile speaking events and debates, with topics ranging from politics to religion, science and the arts since 1823.

It has provided opportunities for many budding politicians from the United Kingdom and other countries to develop their speaking skills, and acquire reputation and network.

Some of its famous speakers include United States presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Others notable figures were Mother Theresa, Elton John, Albert Einstein and Natalie Portman.

“One main reason why we are here is because we are passionate believers that debate is critical to the country’s fulfillment of democratic values,” said Zabilowicz.

“Every term, the committee tries to make the topics varied and organise debates that everybody can go to, whether you’re a student in science, politics or art.

“In the Union, we discuss topics that are of importance and in great controversy or disagreement. Just because the topic is sensitive or controversial, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed,” said the third-year law student.

Talking about the debates organised by The Oxford Union, Chris Garner, who is studying philosophy, politics and economics at St Peter’s College, said: “We have hosted quite a number of powerful debates and discussions.

“In one of the terms, I co-organised a panel to discuss genocide and why it continues to reoccur, and what can be done to break that cycle.”

Isabella Risino, who is a second-year law student at St Catherine’s College, said: “What we are trying to teach the student is applicable to interviews and it is going to help them to engage in university discussions and lectures.

Apart from that, the students will be able to think and write independently.

“Just follow your passion and never look at the statistics when applying for college. I used to think that I am not good enough for Oxford.

“But I just went to the interview and got in, not knowing that law is statistically harder to get into,” said Risino.

Speaking about his experience, Garner said he was incredibly lucky to study in Oxford, in the course that he’s passionate about.

“Oxford is an intense and academic place, and I find that to be a positive thing. I am excited to share about the type of learning that’s happening there, which distinguishes it from other institutions in the world.

“The teaching method is different, which is through one-on-one tutorials with professors who have written the textbooks from which you are studying.

“As a law student, my professors are the ones who write articles that influence decision-making in courts. It is such a fortunate position to be in,” he said.

The four representatives conducted the workshops and assemblies at Garden International School, HELP International School, The International School@Park City and the Alice Smith School.

Their audiences were mainly 16- to 18-year-old students pursuing the A Level or International Baccalaureate programmes.

In the “Finding Your Voice” assembly, the representatives described how they decided on what they wanted to study at university, the admission process, and what skills they needed to succeed.

The “I Can” talk was held particularly for female students. Risino, who conducted the session, was passionate in empowering women.


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Driving home a love for English

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

What started as a simple programme to teach rural children English is now an annual affair that brings the community and university student volunteers together for fun-filled language activities

NO child should be left behind in education, especially when it comes to learning English.

Even if they come from rural areas and do not have access to fancy tuition centres or top notch English teachers in schools, these children deserve to have the same opportunities as their peers in urban areas of Malaysia.

One for the album as everyone involved got together for the Reading Bus English Camp.

One for the album as everyone involved got together for the Reading Bus English Camp.

Based on this philosophy, Reading Bus Club founder Cheli Nadarajah, 58, started providing English language lessons to children from rural areas throughout Malaysia.

For the past five years, Nadarajah together with his Reading Bus Club team, Sunway University and the people of Ijok have been organising the Reading Bus English Camp for primary school pupils of Ijok.

“We just want to encourage them to use English,” he says.

This year, the camp was divided into four sections – grammar, vocabulary, storytelling and reading – for Years Four and Five pupils.

Student volunteers from Sunway University and cultural exchange students from Lancaster University, England, became the facilitators and “teachers” for the pupils in each classroom.

The short, 30-minute lessons were kept informal so that it did not feel like ordinary, boring school English language classes.

At the storytelling station, the adult students captivated their young audience with the tale of the Princess and The Pea, complete with costumes and sound effects.

The pupils were not allowed to remain passive and watch the show though.

They were asked to read along from a booklet and even take on some roles in the play.

All of this was to encourage the children to speak in English and have fun with it.

The grammar lessons involved throwing a paper ball and the pupil that catches it would be asked to name their favourite food, colour or animal.

Those who shared the same favourites would then group together to learn about verbs.

In 2014, Lancaster University students joined the camp making the collaboration with Sunway University even more meaningful.

This year, 14 cultural exchange students got the opportunity to interact with the children.

Nadarajah (left) tells Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (second from left) and Dr Idris (third from left) about the English camp.

Nadarajah (left) tells Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (second from left) and Dr Idris (third from left) about the English camp.

Among them was Samia Durrani, 21, who felt even more inspired to help the children after a talk with Nadarajah.

“We were really excited to come here and teach the children, just to give something back to the community,” she says, adding that she was in the grammar classroom.

Also from Lancaster University was Masters student Hayley Keohane, 22.

For her, the best part of helping out was watching the children’s faces light up with smiles as they read the books provided by the Reading Bus Club.

“We only spent 30 minutes with each group which doesn’t seem like a lot of time but it has such a positive impact.”

Former Sunway University degree in psychology student Ng Jia Yi, 22, was one of the key figures in organising the materials for this edition of the English Language Camp.

Now an intern at Sunway University, she says this year, the camp was held for Years Four and Five pupils who came from all over Ijok

For 22-year-old Wong Shang Cheong, he says it was important for them as volunteers to instil in the pupils the importance and relevance of the English language.

He says that for some of the children, English is just another language subject taught in schools and there were some pupils in his grammar group that were completely uninterested in what was going on.

The Sunway University student does not blame the children though. Instead, he took it as a challenge to try and engage them in their grammar activity which had the children filling in sentences with the correct verbs.

“For me, I picked up English quite easily (in school) but for them, we could see the (confidence) barrier there and we have to be really patient with them,” he adds.

Sunway University Financial Analysis student Jason Wee Khui Yi, 22, said teaching the Year Four pupils grammar, even if it was just for half an hour, was “a meaningful and memorable event”.

He even bonded with some of them and was surprised at how receptive they were to a lesson on verbs.

Sunway University psychology student Sandra Khoo Huiyong, 21, says she was lucky to have grown up in an environment that let her immerse in the English language.

An opportunity, she adds, that these rural children do not have.

“If not for the Reading Bus Club, they (the pupils) would not get the chance to read English books.

Seeing these children enjoy and learn through what we have done today was the best part.”

There were three Reading Bus Club volunteers also present at this edition of the camp.

Angela Beh Chun Mei, 18, says she found it interesting that the children in these rural areas have a different understanding and knowledge of things.

“To share with them our knowledge and to interact with them has been a special experience,” she adds.

Although Beh and another volunteer Shasa Tan Tsuen Yi, 17, are busy with school, they try to volunteer with the team every few months.

Tan says they sometimes help conduct the ice-breaking sessions and activities like reading and grammar lessons.

Both volunteers even managed to squeeze in some studying in between helping out at the camp.

For Kelly Yee Min Li, 22, her favourite part about volunteering with the Reading Bus Club are the answers she sometimes get from the pupils.

“Kids say the cutest things,” she adds with a laugh.

Nadarajah started the Reading Bus Club in Sarawak together with his wife Kong Lai Mei, 57, in 2009.

Contrary to what people might think, the Reading Bus is not an actual bus.

In fact, it is just a name that “stuck”, says Nadarajah.

He explains that the name “Reading Bus” came about because in Sarawak, the children would call anything that was larger than a car, a “bus”.

Response has been good with the number of pupils at the half-day camp increasing every year.

Although their command of the language is very weak, Nadarajah says: “We find that most of the children are interested and know English but they find it difficult to respond back.”

“We have most of the children replying to us in their native language but our volunteers will respond in English.

“Language acquisition happens this way, the more you hear, the more you will be able to speak it.”

For Ijok assemblyman Dr Idris Ahmad, the camp has been a blessing for the “underprivileged children” of Ijok.

“When I first came here, I found that the level of education and the education facilities were very much lacking compared to the towns,” he says.

Hi wife Mariah Abdul Karim says the local children could barely count to 20 in English.

Dr Idris adds that there has been a marked improvement in the language proficiency of the pupils but it isn’t only due to the camp.

The Reading Bus Club also conducts fortnightly English lessons for the children and have stocked books for loan at the ADUN office.

by Rebecca Rajaendram
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